Perched on the top of Beacon Hill in the north of Worcestershire is the unusual Toposcope Fort. It is 11 miles southwest of Birmingham and is 298 metres (978 ft) above sea level. It offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside including the distant city centre of Birmingham. At the centre of the fort is the Toposcope disc engraved with the key features that can be seen from the lookout point. Beacon Hill was once part of a nationwide network of beacons that could be lit from one end of the country to the other to warn that an invasion had taken place. Once one beacon was lit anywhere in the network those that could see it would then light theirs and the warning would spread rapidly across the land. This idea was later incorporated by JRR Tolkien into his masterwork – the Lord of the Rings – as the Beacons of Gondor. This is not at all surprising as Tolkien once lived in Fern Cottage near the base of Beacon Hill and thoroughly explored the area with his brother Hilary.
Although the Toposcope had yet to be built it was almost certainly the views from this location that inspired Tolkien’s vision of Mordor. Today the views are largely of green countryside but these were very different when Tolkien was just a twelve year old boy. In 1904 the Black Country region, to northeast of Beacon Hill, was at the heart of the Industrial revolution. Vast furnaces lit the night sky red and the fumes and pollution literally turned the buildings into black tomb-like structures. This staining can still be seen today in some parts of Dudley and Wolverhampton. The people of the region were often soot covered, small and crippled from working these truly horrendous conditions. These unfortunates would later reappear in Tolkien’s literature as the Orcs – once good beings corrupted and disfigured by the greed of their masters.
The Toposcope was originally built in 1907 to commemorate the creation of the Lickey Hills Country Park through the gift of land from the Cadbury family of nearby Bournville. The hills we once used as a royal hunting forest that was attached to the Manor of Bromsgrove. By all accounts the Toposcope was a far simpler structure than is there today. The site was restored and redeveloped in 1988 to celebrate the centenary of the country park. It’s generally believed that the castle structure seen today was erected at this time, although it has the appearance being much older.
As one of the highest points in the West Midlands it is often covered by snow in winter and the area surrounding it is often used by local families as a popular spot for tobogganing.
There is a local legend that the Devil and his accomplice, named Harry-ca-nab, used to be seen riding through the woods around the beacon mounted on snow white bulls looking for the wild boar that used to roam the region.
The Toposcope has long been a popular site for UFO spotters and ‘watchers’ have often spotted and photographed a triangular aircraft which was later nicknamed the Dudley Dorito after the popular triangular snack. Most sightings took place between 2007 and 2010 and it is now generally believed to have been a military test plane.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Fieldhouse Lane, Romsley, Halesowen
West Midlands, England, B62 0NH
+44 (0)1562 710 015
- Address: Monument Lane, Lickey (Hills) Worcestershire, England, United Kingdom, B45 9QQ
- GPS: 52.38215556,-2.019675
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: B45 9QQ
- Entrance Fees: Free Access
- Disabled Access: Possible for wheelchair users across grass
- Visibility from Road: Poor
- Image Credits: Header Image: Paul Vincent